What you can’t see can hurt you

Published on April 6th, 2021

Avoiding collision requires visibility which is hard in the fog, and once was a whole lot harder before pinpoint navigation tools. But what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger and provides good stories… here’s two of them:

From Keith Burhans:
Growing up on Lake Ontario we had several memorable foggy experiences crossing to Toronto early in our season. That trip crossed two sets of freighter lanes, the busiest being the southerly set that involved ships transiting the Welland Canal.

I recall one windless crossing where the fog set in and we were totally blind with only a compass heading and the Atomic 4 humming along. This would have been in the primitive late 60’s before freon can fog horns came along and the tin ‘blow as hard as you can, for as long as you can’ (and mimic the sound like a wounded duck) fog horns were the norm.

We would stop the engine on 10 minute intervals and listen for the wump, wump, wump of the freighter props turning and try to guess where the sound was emanating from. It was always the wave sets that ultimately confirmed when a freighter had passed. The bigger the wave set, the closer you were.

The scariest one that I remember was hearing the approaching freighters fog horn get louder with each interval and then hear to the sound of the bow wave, but then the really long blast of his fog horn that was so loud and clear it made us look up – instead of ahead to see that 100-feet away was a little too close.

That freighter made a really big wave set.

My favorite fog story is a ‘Bert and I’ classic told by Robert Bryan about the ‘Blue Bird’… click here.

So having been run over by boat and being maimed by the experience, I did manage to keep my sense of humor and named my Bongo – ‘Blue Bird II’.

From Eric Sorensen:
In 13 years of owning a sailboat with radar, I turned it on eight times and used it four with many thanks that it worked. A good plotter and AIS receiver really made things better; never did spend the $600 more for the transmitter.

In my neck of the woods, the Washington State Ferries run in all weather. As I approached the area around Mukilteo back in the 1990s, I had a vague idea of where I was using Loran A but when the fog horn screamed on that ferry, sounding as if it was five feet off my stern, I just punched it and got the heck out of the way.

Never did see it but that was preferable to being intimate with the huge thing.

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